David Mamet’s play about sky-high egos, power and testosterone may have been first staged over three decades ago but it feels just as relevant as it was in 1983. A quick glance at the news is enough to show how many of these men are around us. You might even say one of them is now leader of the free world. Mamet’s characters are nostalgic for a time when they were young, virile, shiny salesmen because now they’re a little rusty, struggling to stay on top. They’ve still got the magic touch but they’re on a bad streak so terrified of losing their jobs, they manipulate, swear and plead their way to selling homes, grasping for any grain of glory they can.
Stanley Townsend is brilliant as the charismatic and eloquent Shelley Levine who wants to succeed not just for his own ego but to help his daughter, while Robert Glenister plays Moss, a grumpy schemer who tries to recruit a gentler George (Don Warrington) to help him steal the real-estate leads from the office one night. The scene in which they discuss the plan shows off just how cleverly Mamet uses language throughout the play, something the director Sam Yates has made the most of in this production at The Playhouse. “Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this¸or are we just…” asks George to which Moss replies, “we’re just speaking about it. As an idea.” Meaning shifts constantly throughout the play, words are slippery and the dialogue is knife-sharp, fast and full of The Thick Of It-like insults. Kris Marshall plays the office manager, very different to the actor’s usual casting as an affable chap, coldly controlling his salesman’s jobs from behind a desk. He’s got the bureaucratic power but is an outsider with none of the charisma or killer instinct the others have.
Most cut-throat of them all is Christian Slater’s Ricky Roma, the dazzlingly charming king of the crooked sales crew. Ricky sits back, legs spread apart, grinning and riled up by the very whiff of a sale. It’s a darkly funny production, which favours farce and a take-down of the characters over really dramatic moments – but it still hits hard. It’s a hugely enjoyable play during which I found myself both rooting for and denigrating the men, moved and repelled by their desperation at different moments. This production is a mesmerising dissection of how warped masculinity can reap carnage.
Glengarry Glen Ross is at the Playhouse Theatre until 3rd February.